How to get better answers from asking better questions

Chris How
Chris How
Jun 11, 2018 · 3 min read
Photo by Saulo Mohana on Unsplash

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. — Voltaire

The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. — Thomas S. Kuhn

Working in user experience I get to ask a lot of questions. In user research and usability testing sessions; in surveys and from analytics data; in stakeholder interviews and when facilitating workshops. Questions help us to frame and get to the bottom of the problems we are looking to solve.

I think that what links all great innovators, thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs and designers is the ability to get better insight from asking more probing questions.

In three separate blog posts I want to share some thoughts and practical tips to answer:

1: What makes a good question? A checklist of eight characteristics to use when coming up with and reviewing your questions.

2: How can I get better answers from my questions? Five things to think about during a research session.

3: How can I get better at asking questions? Five ways to help develop your skills as a questioning ninja.

These tips have come from years of asking questions in digital projects, making plenty of mistakes (and hopefully learning from them), from mentoring colleagues and asking for advice.

Like many User Experience (UX) people I love questions and questioning. It is how I understand, uncover, iterate and refine creative solutions.

However for many people, questions can be difficult, dangerous and disruptive.

Traditionally in school and then in the workplace, people are rewarded for knowing the answers but not for having good questions. It seems that we start life as dedicated questioners, then as we get older many people lose the habit of asking questions.

A survey from Littlewoods involving 1,000 mothers with children aged between two and 10 showed that UK mothers get asked around 105,120 questions a year by their children. An article in Newsweek on ‘The Creativity Crisis’ highlights research that points to pre-school children in the US asking their parents 100 questions a day on average. However, by the time children reach middle school, they’ve pretty much stopped asking questions.

From years of undertaking user and stakeholder research, I’ve noticed that the quality of an answer is closely related to the quality of the question. The projects I’ve worked on that have the biggest impact and created the most value have been the ones where the questions asked have uncovered better insight.

Asking better questions is a vital part of every UX designer’s toolkit. However experienced you are, asking questions is a skill that can always be improved upon. I hope you enjoy my tips and I look forward to you sharing yours.

This article was originally written by Chris How and first published on the blog of The Unit, a digital agency based in Brighton.

Chris How

Written by

Chris How

Principal UX Consultant @clearleft & Co-organiser of @uxcampbrighton. Insatiable curiosity for people, digital design and tech. Recovering Post-it note addict.

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